I listened to Roy Hodgson after England qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and he described the changes that have recently been implemented at the Football Association but the importance of success for the flagship team. The success or failure of the England team will always be the barometer for public opinion of the strength and health of English football. The FA and their appointment of the national Head Coach will be judged on whether the England team qualifies and performs well in major tournaments. However, developing the long term future of the game must run in parallel to the short-term aims of the “flagship” team winning football matches. That role comes under the remit of Dan Ashworth, a former Head of Youth at Cambridge United, and Roy Hodgson, a brilliant coach with a wealth of knowledge, experience and respect from all around the world. It was a partnership developed at West Bromwich Albion and the philosophy behind the process to develop the football operation at the Football Association to ensure sustainable success for the flagship team is one that we share and have already began to create at Cambridge United.
There are many similarities. For the short-term and long-term to work in harmony, the appointment of the right Team Manager or Head Coach is crucial. They have to buy into the long term vision and have the ability to implement the necessary ingredients in the short-term to ensure the long term has the opportunity to develop. There is a massive difference between a “manager” and a “coach”. England needed a coach, a leader of the coaches at the younger age groups to inspire the next generation of players, to implement the vision of St George’s Park as the coaching hub of English football. It didn’t need a media friendly, wheeler dealer type manager. In a world where clubs are beginning to realise the tomfoolery of leaving a single employee, who’s shelf life is so short and fragile, to be left in sole control of the entire football operation, this type of manager is becoming a dinosaur. The main role of the job is coaching the players, being responsible for coaching the team, winning football matches. All of the supporting cast, from recruitment, sports science, physiotherapy, the academy and financial responsibility for contracts should be permanent positions appointed by the club, not staff which are appointed by a manager that statistics suggest is an extremely transient position.
Roy Hodgson talks about the development of structures within the FA, under the leadership of Dan Ashworth, which encompasses youth development, talent identification, sports science, analysis and the addition of top experts in their field to aid and assist every facet of every team at every level. It might be a completely different scale, with vastly differing resources, but the principle remains the same as our philosophy for developing our club. Everything is geared to the success of the first team but not all resources are deployed on paying first team players. We have a balance so that whilst we have a competitive budget, and pay competitive wages, we are not big spenders and have a very tight wage structure. Our view is that whilst we have to invest in the team, it is a very short term view to invest everything in the team and nothing in the long term future. It is also false economy to pay exorbitant wages with no resources for the details around the team that make such a big difference. Medical provision including BUPA cover, highly qualified and competent staff in their fields, a comprehensive scouting network, thorough recruitment processes, a coherent development structure, fantastic training facilities, a superb playing surface and a professionalism in every aspect of how we look after the players and what we demand from the players.
The small details, such as membership of David Lloyd Cambridge, improving our own gym, video analysis, hydration tests, individual strength programmes, accommodation for players we sign outside the area, nutrition advice, personalised diets, body fat testing in conjunction with ARU, match day suits, overnight stays etc are crucial. The list is endless. Our players give everything on the pitch because we give them everything off the pitch. That is why Chris Maxwell says we are the “most professional club he has ever played for” and why players sign here for less money than they could get elsewhere. This culture doesn’t happen by accident, it has been created. Without the buy in from everyone, it will never survive. With the right buy in from the Head Coach down, as we have with Richard and all our staff, it will flourish. It should be the club that has a philosophy and creates the culture then appoints the staff and a Head Coach who share and then take ownership of this vision. When a manager sets his own philosophy and culture, appoints his own staff and is responsible for the budgets, at best it leaves a huge void when he leaves and at worst it leaves carnage. We have seen it here at first hand.
I really respect the FA for appointing Roy Hodgson rather than going for the media or popular choice. They understood the need for immediate results for their flagship team but not at the expense of everything else they were investing in for the future. St George’s Park needed a coach to inspire future coaches, the younger representative teams needed a coach who would take an interest at coaching at every level and the England team needed a serious coach, with knowledge and experience in the job of coaching a national team. Roy Hodgson ticked all three boxes. He also had an excellent working relationship and chemistry with Dan Ashworth, the man tasked with shaping the future.
Richard ticks the same boxes for us. It was interesting, and totally in character, for him to highlight everyone at the club when he won his Manager of the Month Award. That is because everything we do is about teamwork. It is obvious on the pitch when you see us play and it is the same off the pitch. No big timers, no big egos, no one who thinks they are better or bigger than anyone else. And that is from the chairman down. Everyone has a role to play, everyone is an important cog in the wheel and without everyone we will not achieve anything. That shows when any of the players are left out of the team or squad. They show a selfless attitude, they support their team-mates and they put the team first.
I have highlighted the backroom staff on many occasions. But the contribution of the men inside the boardroom, so often a source of embarrassment or angst for supporters in the past, should not be underestimated. Under Dave’s leadership, we have another team behind the team. They all play an important role and they all have one thing in common – a genuine love, passion and commitment to CUFC. Whether they give their time, expertise, money or a combination of all three, the club would not have survived the period in which so much damage from the past has been repaired and be in a position where we can now look forward with optimism without their unbelievable commitment. I feel very humble to serve on the board with them bearing in mind that I am a paid employee.
I believe that every successful organisation must be right from the top downwards if they want to have any chance of success. We now have a board working like a football team – individuals with different strengths but a common purpose and a determination, commitment and work ethic to achieve. The staff has the same ethos and the players have demonstrated that in every game so far this season.
Everything we do at the club is underpinned by teamwork. From commercial deals, to one nil wins for the first team, to developing the youth system, to signing players, whether they are 6 years old to join an RDC, 16 years old to join as a scholar or 26 years old to sign for the first team.
This afternoon’s opponents also personify teamwork and their record of 27 points from the last 12 games highlights why today will be as tough a challenge as we have faced all season. We will need the teamwork that resonates through our club motto. When we are “United in Endeavour” and the intensity on the pitch is matched in the stands and on the terraces, this is a tough place for visiting teams to visit.
A lot has been said since our last home game. Judging by the NLP, at least Richard looks in great shape! We both know that 99.9% of supporters want the club to succeed. Please realise what we have here, how good a job Richard is doing and understand the magnitude of the task ahead to maintain the form of our first 15 games. We need to work together. We will never boast, predict the future or make grandiose statements. We will always be humble, respectful and hardworking. And we will always protect the team when we are portrayed differently.
Enjoy the game. Keep making a noise!